It's stating the obvious to point out that women get a bum rap.
We have, for virtually all of recorded history, been treated as frivolous, inconsistent, vain, foolish, or at best cannily deceptive. Entire bodies of literature are devoted to our malignancy, unpredictability, secretiveness, and childishness, painting a picture of a kind of person no one would want to be. In contrast, of course, to all the virtues of men; "virtue" itself derives from the Latin for "man." Perhaps, then, we shouldn't be terribly surprised at how we're spoken of when the language itself treats masculinity as identical to moral worth.
Concurrently, women who want to succeed in a man's world are advised to act, well, like men. We are too emotional, we're told, to be rational; if we want to command respect, we must shed that. We are too willing to compromise; we ought to stand our ground. We are weak; we must be tough, and constant; we are passive-aggressive where naked aggression is superior.
Femininity is weakness. Masculinity is strength.
The last few years, however, have brought a new mainstream acknowledgement of the counterargument through the rise, first in social media and later percolating up to the larger culture, of the term toxic masculinity. It encompasses a wide range of traditionally "masculine" behaviors broadly boiling down to suppressing emotion as a sign of weakness and using violence or the threat of violence as both an assertion of masculinity and a response to it being challenged.
In other words, we're at a place where the traditional ideas of masculinity and femininity as rational and strong versus emotional and weak are being called into question in the larger culture outside academia for the first time. And going right along with that is questioning the value of the traits we have historically valued. Perhaps "hardness," inevitable double entendre aside, isn't the virtue we've been led to believe it is. Perhaps, in fact, it's very much the opposite, and that far from women needing to embrace the public-facing toxicity of maleness – the fear of weakness, vulnerability, feeling, and compassion – men need to take a long hard look at what theologians used to call the "feminine virtues," because I think their stark separation from them is detrimental to men and women alike, fueling cycles of discrimination and abuse that have perpetuated themselves across human history.
It cannot be healthy for men to be starved from touch and emotional intimacy to such a degree that their only source for either is their wives, fomenting possessiveness and violence when that intimacy is denied. It cannot be healthy for men to feel obliged to project toughness, superiority, and dominance. It cannot be healthy to vilify gentleness, or compassion, or empathy, or kindness, or sympathy, or understanding, or compromise, or humility, or affection, or care. Yet all of these, a vast swathe of genuine human experience, are vilified and structurally denied to men unless accompanied by a degree of embarrassment and shame. That is toxic masculinity.
I keep thinking about the phenomenal, billion-dollar success of Oprah Winfrey, who built her empire first and foremost on meeting the emotional needs of her audience. She has, for decades, crafted a niche almost unknown to American culture beforehand: someone who gave voice to women's concerns without dumbing them down or condescending. And as her success grew, we saw in the male-dominated public sphere an increasingly mocking tone in discussion of her; first, laughing at her struggles with weight loss (a stereotypically female concern that she took seriously and discussed frankly), and advancing to mocking the emotional concern she demonstrated for her audience as "therapeutic deism," where "therapeutic" itself – the very idea of taking care of your mental and emotional health – denotes nothing but touchy-feely nonsense that makes you feel good but lacks the hardness of truth. The massive success she's received for meeting this fundamental need, taking women seriously in the process, is itself only evidence of the gullibility of an audience more eager to be told "I'm okay, you're okay" than to confront reality.
Which, even on its face, is massively dismissive, not only of women as a class, but of the very act of taking your emotional life seriously. Men are quick to do that, almost sneering at the word "feelings;" in fact, much of the informal discourse surrounding the discussion of gender relations infantilizes them as "fee-fees." And all that does is reduce emotional life as something not only optional, but demeaning of the subject. Feelings diminish men because feelings are womanly. And we all know how terrified men are of being even remotely womanly.
That underlines the essential fragility of masculinity, a concept theoretically founded on strength and resilience. Representing perfection, it is constantly under threat, weakened by exposure to femininity. If any embrace of "femininity" is demeaning, then that cuts off by fear of censure everything that goes with it, from emotional intimacy to hugging your friends and even to things as simple as self-grooming, lest we forget the "metrosexual," where taking care of your appearance was equated with effeminacy and by extension, homosexuality. Men are amputating critical emotional and social limbs because they don't want anyone to think they're gay.
But "womanly" doesn't need to be a mark against anyone. Women outperform men in ways we might find surprising: we earn more degrees, including at the doctoral level, and we are as a class superlative leaders according to Harvard Business Review, which published a study measuring leadership attributes back in June. There is something in the experience of being a woman that makes us more likely to be motivational, collaborative, supportive, self-improving, and results-oriented, and it's not hard to see why. We are so undervalued and demeaned that we strive to outperform; we are taught from a young age to concern ourselves with the needs of others and compromise, which makes us more likely to be experienced with consensus-building and teamwork; we are told we are inadequate so we are more likely to strive to improve ourselves. In other words, the very traits for which we are held in contempt are traits that make us especially capable in the most male-dominated sphere of all: corporate leadership.
There is a necessary humility in being a woman that comes from our ongoing position at the bottom rung of society. We know, in ways men don't seem to, that we are subject to the whims of others; we know, in ways men simply can't, what it's like to be tossed aside and dismissed. In the best of us, it fuels a desperate ambition that unlocks our vast and untapped potential.
So come on, guys. Embrace your feminine side. You'll find out that it enriches your manhood, and not the other way around. If we can learn to be hard, you can learn to be soft.
You'll be better (and happier) for it.
We are living in a time when women are rising to new heights which means they are regularly being confronted with the fear of being "too much". For women in business this is pervasive and costly.
A few ways women can be perceived as "too much" are:
Speaking up about their successes and achievements.
Sharing one too many photos of their cute kids.
Telling one too many people about that date night.
Looking a little too good in that swimsuit.
These can lead to being publicly attacked on social media or privately slandered which in turn leads to women dimming their light and walking on egg shells in hopes of avoiding conflict and judgement.
The minute a woman feels it's unsafe to shine she will begin to overthink, worry, and fear how she shows up in the world.
Forgetting to announce the book is done and the interview is live.
Choosing to focus on what's still on the to-do list rather than what's been checked off.
Many female entrepreneurs are subconsciously altering their behavior in an attempt to not attract too much attention to themselves, rather than focusing on allowing authenticity and magnetism to attract their ideal clients and community.
Women are afraid of being criticized, ostracized, and abandoned by other women for simply being who they are. This leads to quite the quantum when being who you are is simplest way to accelerate the growth of your business.
New research shows men are far more comfortable with self promotion than women are. Researchers found that men rate their own performance 33 percent higher than equally performing women. What we know is that self promotion pays off and this is where women are missing the boat.
The world needs more women to step into leadership roles and no longer be intimidated about creating six and seven figure careers.
Here are five ways to release the fear of being "too much":
1. Approve of yourself.
While it feels good to receive outside validation it will never be enough if you don't first appreciate yourself. The key to having a healthy support system is to make sure you are part of it. Being your biggest critic is what your mother's generation did. It's now time to be your biggest cheerleader. Becoming aware of self talk will reveal what belief is ready to be re-wired. Create a simply mantra that affirms how incredible capable you are.
2. Connect deeply to those you serve.
One powerful way to shift out of people pleasing behavior is to get clear on who actually matters to the wellbeing and success of your life and business. Leadership is not about being the most popular, instead it's a decision to be brave for those who can't be. Take a few minutes each day to visualize and meditate on those your business serves and supports. See your future clients moving toward you every time you choose to stand in your power and use your authentic voice.
3. Remember the legacy you wish to leave.
Having your life purpose and legacy in writing is one of the most transformational exercises you can do. Reading this often will keep you focused on what matters. Knowing what you wish to leave in the hearts of those you love most is incredibly grounding. You didn't come here to keep your mouth shut, dilute your truth, or dim your light-you came here to make a difference.
4. Forgive those who have been unsupportive in the past.
The past has a way of informing the future in a negative way when there is unresolved pain. Take a few minutes to get quiet and ask yourself who you have unforgiveness towards or maybe their name came to mind as you read this article. Listening to a forgiveness meditation or writing a letter to the person you are ready to forgive are both simple and effective ways to process and heal.
5. Be part a community of bright, successful women.
Meaningful relationships with others who have similar aspirations is what will keep you out of isolation and playing small. These connections can happen in a networking group, online community or a local Meetup. Thriving in every area of life is depend on you knowing where you belong and being celebrated there. Don't wait to be invited, go actively seek out people and places that support your dreams and desires.
6. Accept you can have it all.
Women have been fed a lie for generations that says, you can have love or money. Decide you can have it all and allow it to flow to you. You can have a successful career and an amazing mother. You can balance motherhood and loving marriage. Don't let anyone write the rules for you. This is the time to create the life you desire on your terms.
7. Celebrate everything!
The fastest way to leave the haters in the dust is to celebrate everything! At the end of each day lay in bed and recall the best moments. At the end of each week, publicly acknowledge and celebrate what's good in your life. Once a month, have a celebration dinner and share it with those who have helped you in the journey. If there's something good happening, talk about it with everyone who will listen!
May you be a woman who chooses to shine so that others may be reminded of all they can be and do.